MIDDLETON (WKOW) -- A "Freedom Fund" has been established in the name of Helbachs Coffee Roasters + Kitchen of Middleton to cover the expenses of a supposed impending legal challenge to a citation the business received for allegedly violating Dane County's mask mandate.
The online fundraising effort with a $50,000 goal was created by a user with the name "Casey Helbach."
"All funds donated will be utilized for legal expenses to challenge the citation Helbachs received and fight for our constitutional rights for freedom," the description for the fundraiser reads.
The fundraising webpage calls Public Health Madison and Dane County's Emergency Order #8 "illegal" and says the measure deserves to be challenged in court. The coffee shop says it also plans to file a lawsuit against Public Health Madison Dane County.
The order in question sets many rules designed to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. Among them is a mandate masks be worn in all private and public buildings. The order allows for only a handful of exceptions.
The fundraiser said that any money left over after covering Helbach's legal fees would go toward establishing "a legal defense fund for other local business owners to fight for freedom and the unlawful orders from Madison & Dane County Public Health."
"I think I support Helbachs and their decision," says republican state assembly candidate Victoria Fueger, who's also a nurse and questions the efficacy of masks.
Helbachs Coffee is in the assembly district Fueger hopes to represent. "I think our department of public health has been given way more power than they should have been given," Fueger says.
"Masks are a simple and essential part of keeping our neighbors safe," says democratic state representative Dianne Hesselbein, who Fueger is challenging. "It's disappointing the Helbachs are refusing to comply with the sensible Dane County order."
The controversy around the coffee shop began July 13, the day Dane County's mask mandate went into effect. A viral social media post circulated purporting to show a sign posted at Helbachs saying "This is a Mask Free Zone. Please remove mask before entering."
"This sign was a misrepresentation of our policy," the fundraising webpage says. "We believe in freedom of expression and welcome patrons with or without a mask."
Over the following days protesters demonstrated outside the business in groups of ones and twos. On July 15, Madison Assistant Attorney Marci Paulsen said the coffee shop's owners called police on herself and a public health inspector after the pair tried to "educate" the people inside about the order.
Middleton police arrived and allowed the officials to carry on. Police said they would return to the business to find out if it was still failing to comply with the public health order.
Public Health Madison and Dane County is the agency in charge of enforcing its own mask mandate.
A spokesperson for public health confirmed Tuesday the agency issued a $263.50 fine to the business, the standard amount for violating the order outside of Madison.